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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


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This Space For Rent

The Southwestern Paladin
Don’t Call it a Comeback
Zanman Qualified for Pro Tour Prague and YOU CAN TOO!
by Jeff Zandi
March 10, 2006

I’m excited to say that I am back on the Pro Tour again. It’s been two years since I played in Pro Tour Amsterdam. Amsterdam is one of the great cities of the world. I have only good memories of my travels in and around Amsterdam and, unfortunately, only bad memories of my play in the Pro Tour event itself. Statistically speaking, most players are going to leave a Pro Tour with a loss in their last match. But I’m putting all that behind me, it’s time to start thinking about the future. The first weekend in May will find me and my wife traveling to Prague in the Czech Republic for what will be my sixth lifetime Pro Tour event. Pro Tour Prague will feature booster drafting Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension. There’s no real way to prepare for THAT format right now, but for those of you who haven’t qualified for PT-Prague and would LIKE TO, there are still a good number of PTQs left. I think I can help you get ready to win your own seat at Pro Tour Prague.

Step One Do Whatever it Takes to Play in a PTQ

If you really want to qualify for the Pro Tour, you may need to inconvenience yourself. Even though we all love to play Magic, it is certainly true that PTQs can be inconvenient. These tournaments cost a lot of money to attend, you have to spend an entire day sitting closely alongside all the typical characters you can expect at such a tournament.

And then there is the travel. For the qualifier I played in recently, I drove (by myself) six hours from Dallas to Lubbock. The point is, if you want to qualify for the Pro Tour, you have to be willing to pay the price in time, money and comfort.

A Winter storm struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area the night before the tournament, causing a certain number of players that might have made the long trip to Lubbock to stay home. Houston had attracted ninety-one players for the first sealed deck PTQ of the season here in Texas. The Mad Hatter, judge, tournament organizer and proprietor of Mad Hatter’s House of Games, was expected a smaller number than Houston. Hatter’s store could seat about 70 players with a moderate degree of comfort. The actual turnout was fifty-one players, meaning that we would be playing six Swiss rounds, which I highly prefer as a player to the seven round PTQs that have been more the norm in the past two years in Texas.

Building My Sealed Deck

Here is the weird deck that I played in the six Swiss rounds of the tournament. I was NOT EXCITED when I saw my cards. The average Ravnica/Guildpact sealed deck contains lots of green, lots of black with enough good cards in a third color to round things out (often white cards).

There is no way to describe how important your mana base is for sealed deck play, it is just about as important as the cards you select for the deck.

You could get lucky and receive a nice pool of cards, and maybe you select the best of those nice cards for your deck, you will still end up disappointed if you don’t build the deck’s mana base properly. This is one reason green is such an important anchor color for this format. The common Guild lands that come into play tapped but which produce two colors of mana are unbelievably important in limited, especially in sealed deck play. You are more likely to have the green/white, blue/black and/or the green/black common Guild lands than the red/green or red/blue. Green also has some good non-land cards, like Farseek, Elves of Deep Shadow and Civic Wayfinder in Ravnica and the very useful Silhana Starfletcher in Guildpact. Black has the best creature removal, hands down. For these reasons, green and black are by far the most popular colors for Ravnica/Guildpact sealed decks.

Building this deck was kind of a nightmare, but in the end, I think I got it MOSTLY right. The nightmare part hit me as soon as I thumbed through the cards, no mana help. No green worth playing except for Savage Twister, no red worth playing except for Savage Twister and one or two red/white cards.

The only common Guild two color land is the blue/red Izzet Boilerworks and the only signet is the blue/red Izzet Signet. No mana helpers in green, no other artifact mana sources, no mana help at all for a deck where all the good cards are in black, white and blue.

When you find yourself in a position like this, it is important to figure out which are the very best cards in your card pool. You would LIKE to have good mana support, availability and synergy among your colors. No luck for me there. In a perfect situation, you would love to have a good casting curve with quality spells with low mana costs combined with powerful cards with higher casting costs that are particularly good late in the game. You can’t always worry about curve when you play sealed deck, and my deck certainly does not exhibit a particularly good mana curve. Most importantly, however, you need ways to win. If you worry too much about elegance and synergy in your deck, you are going to wind up with a two color deck that looks tight, but fails to have the kind of punch that helps you turn around a game when your opponent gets an above average draw against you.

Examining my cards, I saw that I had some bombs. I was particularly excited about Skeletal Vampire, although I had never actually played with it before.

I was excited about a lot of the black and white cards, but I didn’t know if I would be able to live long enough to get to the cards I needed most in order to win. Then there was the blue… In a PTQ in Houston, two months ago, a few attractive blue cards pulled me COMPLETELY off-sides when I built my sealed deck, I ended up messing up my deck to splash for two Mark of Evictions and two Vedalken Entrancers. In that tournament, that blue splash ended up being a disaster when I could have played a very decent, if average, black/green splashing white deck. Thinking of the disappointment in Houston, I looked very skeptically at the blue cards in front of me. It really looked like another disaster waiting to happen, especially with no mana helpers. Finally, I made up my mind that if I played four Islands, I could support the five blue cards I wanted to play, and I was convinced, right or wrong, that these blue cards could be important enough that I would need them. There were not enough black or white cards to keep the deck two colors. This is not a surprise in a sealed deck PTQ where you get one Ravnica tournament pack (I still call these things starter decks) and two boosters of Guildpact. You will almost always NEED to play a third color.

More importantly, with the mana helpers that you will USUALLY find in your card pool, it will almost always be a good idea to go into a third color for a few (five is kind of a lot for a splash, more like a solid third color, should really have one or two more blue mana sources, optimally) powerful cards. The die was cast, I was going to have to play eighteen land. The mana was very simple, if it HAD to be four Islands, then it obviously had to be seven each Plains and Swamps.

Just as time was running out for deck construction, I started thinking about Transmute (this is really something I should have considered sooner). I was thinking about how cool it can be in black/blue Ravnica booster drafts to combine a Junktroller with good Transmute cards like Dimir House Guard, Drift of Phantasms and Dimir Infiltrator. Obviously, you don’t just play Transmute cards for no reason, they should be capable of Transmuting for critical cards in your deck. The Infiltrator Transmutes for Last Gasp, Drift of Phantasms happily exchanges for Compulsive Research. The House Guard is awesome because he can get a wide array of powerful four casting cost cards and is always good in any black limited deck anyway. Add Junktroller to a deck like this, and you have the opportunity to actually use cards you Transmuted a second time. Of course, this isn’t going to work unless you have several cards with Transmute in your deck. Returning the first card you Transmuted back to the bottom of your deck with Junktroller isn’t going to do you any good unless you have another Transmute effect later (or some other deck shuffling effect) to allow you to shake the contents of your library. In my deck, I was really playing Junktroller for the same reason I was playing Benevolent Ancestor, I needed the ability to stall the ground attack while I waited for my GOOD cards to show up. Now I started thinking about whether I was passing up any good Transmute cards that could help me search for my GOOD cards and which could make my Junktroller a stronger card. In a deck playing a lot of black, I was already playing Brainspoil, an important removal card. I never seem to want to Transmute Brainspoil, but it does happen sometimes, and in my deck, Brainspoil could Transmute into a number of potentially game-changing cards including Ribbons of Night, Culling Sun and Stratozeppelid. Unfortunately, Brainspoil was the only card with Transmute that I was planning on playing. I looked for any other cards from my leftovers and found two cards with Transmute, Dimir Machinations and Netherborn Phalanx. Dimir Machinations COULD help me find Pillory of the Sleepless, Compulsive Research or even Benevolent Ancestor or Shrieking Grotesque. I decided it was just not enough of a difference maker.

Netherborn Phalanx is a card I don’t love, but sometimes don’t mind playing as a creature with a big butt in the middle of a game or as a surprising source of life loss for my opponent in the late part of a game. I had left Phalanx out of my initial plans because my deck’s casting curve was already top heavy. Then I realized that Phalanx could be Transmuted for the biggest bomb in my deck, the Skeletal Vampire. Duh! Netherborn Phalanx was a must for the deck, and this humble card was directly responsible for probably four game wins, Transmuting for Skeletal Vampire in three of those games and providing crucial life loss for my opponent on the last turn of the most critical match of the day (the first one!).

Another card in my deck that I was greatly worried about was Shadow Lance.

This was another card that I had not played before. At first glance, I thought Shadow Lance had to be just another of a long line of pump-up creature enchantments that never seem to be all that useful. I thought that this card might not be that much better than the red creature enchantment (I believe we are calling these things ‘aura’ cards now) Firebreathing. I included this card because I thought I might get lucky getting it onto a flyer that actually survived long enough to make Shadow Lance useful. I included it, but I thought it could easily end up being a bad card. I was wrong. Shadow Lance was a very useful card most of the times I was able to draw it.

Here is what I played. Unfortunately, I did not keep all the extra cards together, so I am unable to share my full ‘sideboard’ with you.

1 Ribbons of Night
1 Netherborn Phalanx
1 Brainspoil
1 Orzhov Euthanist
1 Skeletal Vampire
1 Culling Sun
1 Pillory of the Sleepless
1 Mourning Thrull
1 Ghost Warden
1 Courier Hawk
1 Shrieking Grotesque
1 Nightguard Patrol
1 Conclave Equenaut
1 Benevolent Ancestor
1 Shadow Lance
1 Loxodon Gatekeeper
1 Junktroller
1 Vedalken Entrancer
1 Repeal
1 Vedalken Dismisser
1 Stratozeppelid
1 Compulsive Research
7 Swamp
7 Plains
4 Island

Playing the Sealed Deck Tournament

The hardest and most important round of the tournament was the first. I say this for a number of reasons, the most crucial being that I was facing the best player in the room by far. Trent Boneau was a Houston Magic player when I first met him four years ago, but he now lives in Keller (another Dallas-Fort Worth suburb) and he often makes the scene at our weekly team practice sessions. Trent has a great DCI rating, he rules over any and all limited formats on Magic Online and he just plain has one of the best brains for Magic that you will ever see. I was not thrilled when I saw the first round pairing. Sometimes, the tournament organizer or head judge might do you a favor and repair you if you find yourself paired in the first round against someone that you traveled to the tournament with from some great distance. Trent and I didn’t travel together, but we may as well have, it was just so unfortunate to have to play him in the first round. In game one, I somehow managed to get him as low as at nine points, but his green/white splashing some red and black was definitely better than my deck, and he won he game one. If my deck was a study in having a couple of powerful cards surrounded by a slightly inferior supporting cast, the same can be said about his to a somewhat lesser degree. In game one, Trent just plain pistol whipped me with the combination of Primordial Sage and Borborygmos. Neither of us is thrilled about our decks, and we are still grumbling about having to play each other in round one as I somehow win game two. Our first game was very lengthy, and we start game three with about five minutes left in the round. His start looks very good, he plays first turn Forest, Elves of Deep Shadow. On his second turn he plays a second land and attacks me with his Elves of Deep Shadow. I play a second land on my second turn and play Mourning Thrull. On his third turn, he plays a third land and plays Moldervine Cloak on his Elves and swings for four, I chump block with Mourning Thrull and promptly go back to twenty life. On my next turn I play a land and a Benevolent Ancestor. After taking four points from Trent’s next attack, things bog down a bit. He gets a number of creatures into play, including Selesnya Sagittars and one or two flyers. I get the big guy, Skeletal Vampire, into play, but I can’t get through his blockers. My life total is nine and his is nineteen when time is called in the round during his turn. Luckily for me, Trent’s deck has stalled out, mine has too, but I get eleven land in play, meaning that I am able to activate the Vampire’s ability twice a turn, each time sacrificing one 1/1 Bat token to put two more 1/1 Bat tokens into play. Just minutes before, Trent had shrugged his shoulders and rightly asked me if I can even win. I told him that I thought I could. Now we’re in extra turns. At the beginning of the last extra turn, which is my turn, I am still at nine life and Trent is still at nineteen. I have thirteen 1/1 Bat tokens. I play Netherborn Phalanx and Trent’s life total drops from nineteen to twelve. Now I tap out to play Ribbons of Night to destroy one of Trent’s flyers. I attack with the Vampire and all thirteen token creatures and whatever one or two other flyers I had in play. For a moment, I was sure I was going to be one point short, I thought I had counted all the blockers carefully and thought I would have twleve 1/1 Bats unblocked. I had forgotten that Sagittars can block two creatures. Trent is able to block all my attackers except for eleven of my 1/1 Bat tokens.

Luckily, I have a Ghost Warden in play that I tap to give one of the untapped tokens +1/+1. Just like that, I have won what would end up being my toughest match of the day.

In round two I play John Golden, a player from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had sat across from John and the three other players from Albuquerque who all traveled together during deck construction. We had enjoyed a little chit-chat afterwards, nothing in particular. My deck works pretty good in both games of this 2-0 win. It doesn’t hurt anything for me that he mulliganed to six on the play in game one and mulliganed to six on the draw in game two.

Earlier, I said that I felt confidant after the tournament that I had built the deck almost optimally. ALMOST! After round two, Trent Boneau was a very unhappy camper, having lost his second straight match. However, Trent is a superior person in many ways. I asked him to look at my deck and he immediately asked me about some cards that I wasn’t playing, namely my three Izzet cards, the Chronarch, the Boilerworks and the Signet. Trent explained to me that the Chronarch was impossible not to play, and that the Boilerworks and the Izzet Signet would be enough sources for the Chronarch and that these would also shore up my short supply of blue mana sources. For the rest of the tournament, my game two sideboard moves were exactly the same, pull one Plains, Nightguard Patrol and Orzhov Euthanist, add the Izzet Chronarch, Izzet Boilerworks and Izzet Signet. This was the correct build.

My round three opponent, Brandon Foster, has a very tight black/white deck with Angel of Despair, which I think he got in play both games. Still, I win 2-0, ending both games with my own life total at sixteen. In round four, I face Paul Telkamp. Paul is a Lubbock, Texas, local, though he sometimes wishes he lived closer to the larger Magic player population centers of Austin, Dallas or Houston. This tournament is only the second PTQ run by The Mad Hatter since his return from retirement as a DCI judge and tournament organizer. Just over two months ago, Paul Telkamp won Hatter’s first such PTQ, also in Lubbock, qualifying for Pro Tour Hawaii. (Hawaii was Telkamp’s first PT, I think, he did make the trip, but failed to make it to day two even though he worked pretty hard getting prepared for the tournament) Paul makes a number of mistakes during our match, none bigger, stranger or funnier than when he attacked with Petrahydrox blocked by my Vedalken Entrancer. Paul wants to kill my Entrancer, so after I declare my block, he plays Grifter’s Blade targeting his Petrahydrox, immediately causing the Petrahydrox to return to his hand. Paul was actually a little nervous during the match, probably because at 3-0, he was halfway to winning his second PTQ in about as many months. Round five and six were uneventful, with intentional draws with two other undefeated players, Aaron Wilyer (another one of the four Albuquerque boys) and Houston Magic stud Carl James, who flew to Midland the morning of the tournament and got a ride from his close friend Trent Boneau who happened to be sort of traveling that way himself.

Top Eight Booster Draft Deck

I don’t know if there is too much to be learned from my top eight booster draft deck. Frankly, it’s kind of sick-good, the kind of deck that shouldn’t happen too often. I’ll admit that it was a perfectly average red/white deck until the Guildpact was opened. I took one Savant and two Steamcore Weirds but PASSED THE REST of them because I thought I could never splash that much blue in my RW deck. When those cards that I passed came back around, I realized I was a red/blue deck, and that even the Legionnaires were now a maybe. (they made the deck in the end, but were obviously no longer spectacular thanks to there only being room for three Plains in the deck)

I guess what you CAN learn from a draft like this is that you need to stay alert to see changes in the draft. If I had been more alert during the first half of the Guildpact pack, I think I could have more quickly recognized that NOBODY was playing red/blue. I could have also more quickly recognized that the white in my deck wasn’t very good anyway, that I should have been focusing MORE on the red/blue cards than I was during the last booster pack.

I should have been thinking red/blue splash white by the third or fourth pick from the last booster.

Two lessons: draft a deck that you have confidently and successfully drafted in the past, don’t use your PTQ top eight appearance as an opportunity to experiment. Secondly, keep your head on a swivel, in case you have to change your plans during the draft.

Rumor has it that Paul Telkamp first picked a Watery Grave instead of several other more powerful (but less intrinsically valuable) cards.

2 Sparkmage Apprentice
2 Sell-Sword Brute
3 Ogre Savant
1 Hammerfist Giant
1 Galvanic Arc
1 Bloodscale Prowler
4 Steamcore Weird
1 Train of Thought
1 Lore Broker
1 Petrahydrox
1 Torch Drake
1 Flight of Fancy
1 Boros Guildmage
1 Leap of Flame
2 Skyknight Legionnaire
7 Island
7 Mountain
3 Plains

The top eight bracket had at least three solid Magic players, but no big time stars, no consistent Pro Tour players. On my side of the bracket, I would be playing a Lubbock kid named Michael Mata, while Ed Novak from Clovis, New Mexico, will play Aaron Wilyer, the young man from Albuquerque that I drew with in round five. On the other side of the bracket, Carl James faces Glen Godard, the patriarch of the team from Albuquerque, while Paul "rare drafter" Telkamp plays against Nagi Hassan, a talented young man from Dallas-Ft. Worth.

In my quarterfinals match, my opponent Michael Mata (in his first ever PTQ top eight) and I are deck checked. Michael has made a serious enough error on his deck registration for his top eight deck that he is given a game loss. In game two, I play first, since we had rolled dice to see who would go first for game one, an honor I enjoy for game two since he received a game loss penalty. I mulligan to six, then five before keeping a one land hand that nearly kills me. Michael has me pinned down pretty well in a short while, getting me down all the way to six life points. Michael kept his beats coming, in large part, by repeatedly Dredging his Greater Mossdog back to his hand each time I managed to kill it. I think he may have Dredged the Mossdog five times. When I finally stabilize the game, I get Lorebroker into play and just run him out of cards in five or six turns. It was kind of crazy. It made me wonder if my deck was as powerful as I thought it was, it seems to just barely keep Michael off of me in game two. Anyway, a win is a win is a win.

My semi-finals match is against Ed Novak, who somehow bested the much more experienced Aaron Wilyer. Ed is an interesting guy, also playing in his first PTQ top eight. Ed is in the Air Force (the primary employer in the greater Clovis, New Mexico, area) and has a very cute girlfriend named Nikki who also digs Magic and who, I learn, has a small rat as a pet. The rat makes a brief appearance, peering out from Nikki’s shoulder length hair.

Ed’s deck is a straight ahead black/green design with no real holes in it. I win game one easily enough but get totally schooled in game two. In game three, Ed misses an early land drop or two and never recovers. My four Steamcore Weird’s kill his smaller blockers while my Ogre Savants keep his bigger creatures from staying in play for long.

After me and Ed are finished long before the other semi-final match. I watch as Glen Godard battles Lubbock’s own Paul Telkamp. At length, Godard overcomes Telkamp, who other onlookers say made a lot of mistakes in the match.

Glen and I talk about who wants to go to Prague THE MOST while we shuffle our decks for the final match. We both want to go to Prague, and neither of us would be interested in settling for taking all of the first and second prize product (Japanese Guildpact packs) in exchange for dropping from the tournament. Glen and I have a fair bit in common, we’re both at the far older end of the Magic competitive universe, we’ve both played on the Pro Tour without too much success, we both have run a lot of tournaments. In fact, Glen Godard is sort of the New Mexico version of me, or, more likely, I am some abbreviated Texas version of him. He is forty-seven and married to a woman who runs Magic tournaments. I am forty-one and married to a woman who runs the computer at Magic tournaments. Glen, on the other hand, is one of the original owners of one of Magic’s most famous gaming businesses, War Games West. I, on the other hand, am just another of the thousands of Magic players that have had the honor of visiting War Games West in downtown Albuquerque (back in the day) and experiencing the small room where Glen or one of his daughters would supervise you while you selected cards from their unequaled collection of Alpha and Beta edition cards. War Games West is famous in Magic history for being the store/mail order company that handled 20% of the entire Beta edition of Magic: the Gatheing. During our match, Glen told the story of how he once kept one of the last boxes of Beta boosters that his place had at his home on the table next to his bed. Each morning, after turning off the alarm clock, Glen would reach over and open a Beta booster right there in his bed. The same thing happened to me, strangely enough, except that when I woke up, there weren’t really any Beta Magic cards in bed with me! Our match went to a third game, with me winning the first and Glen winning the second.

After shuffling and presenting my deck for game three, I notice that Glen has been pile shuffling my deck into two piles at the beginning of each game. Glen shook his head after shuffling my deck for game three and said, "I count your deck before each game, and you keep having forty cards every time." This is an important lesson. You have to be vigilant about EVERYTHING when you play in a PTQ. Most people don’t pick up my deck and count it in order to be sure that I’m not playing with too few cards. Also, if I hadn’t registered my draft deck correctly, I would have suffered the same game one fate that my quarterfinals opponent faced. This ain’t no party, this aint’s no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around! In game three, things are starting to not look so good, Glen’s green/black creatures are much bigger and stronger than my red/blue ones. Although I got on top of the damage race in the early game, Glen has essentially evened things up and is starting to take advantage with his Woodwraith Corrupter, with which he has already changed two of his Forests into 4/4 creatures. I have my biggest creature in play, Hammerfist Giant, but even he isn’t big enough to attack through safely. Soon, Glen will be attacking for the win. My life count is still higher than his, 10-8, but my time is most assuredly running out. I have seven mana available to me and I draw the Rally the Righteous I sideboarded in for game three removing a Skyknight Legionnaire. The other cards in my hand are a Galvanic Arc and a Steamcore Weird. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can get an attack through, and how many points of damage I might be able to do if I play my Rally. Finally, I figure it out, it’s time to tap the Hammerfist and deal four damage to all of our non-flying creatures as well as to each of us. The simplest way to win would be to activate the Hammerfist and then respond to its ability by playing Rally the Righteous to untap the Hammerfist, allowing me to play his ability twice to deal a total of eight damage to each of us. For some reason, I didn’t like this idea at the time, it practically escaped me. Glen had showed me a Putrefy in a previous game and I was afraid that he could remove my Hammerfist from play before I could resolve my Rally the Righteous. If that happened, he would be the only player with a creature in play, and he would be able to make one Forest into a creature and attack for the win. I decided to first play the Galvanic Arc on his Woodwraith, targeting Glen with the damage. Next, I tapped Hammerfist to deal four damage to all the non-flyers, clearing both sides of the board. As soon as the dust settled and all our creatures where in their graveyards, Glen sighed and asked me if I had one more Steamcore Weird for the win. I tapped the rest of my mana to play Steamcore Weird to deal the last points of damage needed to win game three.

Glen was a great sport after our match was over, just exactly as I knew he would be. Glen and I have a lot in common, and one thing is that we’re both too old with lives too full of other things to be too upset about losing a match, even an important one. I geeked out and asked Glen to autograph my Hammerfist Giant. Glen really was one of my early Magic heroes. Not because of his Magic playing ability, though he is a skilled player every bit as good as me, but because Glen Godard had all the Beta cards in the world ten years ago when making my tournament deck completely black bordered was a very big thing to me. It was a magical day (no pun intended) indeed when I cruised into the old store in downtown Albuquerque. I was supervised in the private "Beta room" by one of Glen’s then-teenage daughters. I spent about fifty bucks on an array of Beta goodies that included a Sol Ring, a Bird of Paradise, a Demonic Tutor and a handful of choice commons. Good times! Ten years later, Glen Godard and little old me are battling it out in the finals of the OLDEST PTQ final in Texas history, a match featuring players whose ages add up to a combined 88 years.

In the end, you always have to remember that there is a lot of luck in Magic. There is no doubt that I enjoyed some good luck in the Swiss rounds.

In the nine games I played, my best card, I was able to play Skeletal Vampire SEVEN TIMES. The old saying is true, especially in limited

tournaments: all you need to do to win is to get a great deck, play without making mistakes, and get lucky. Every PTQ I have ever won, and I’ve won six of ‘em, included some good cards, some good play, and some good luck. I’m looking forward to trying my luck with the big dogs in Prague.

Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for YEARS.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


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